The demise of bus stop timetables

TUC

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Like many parts of the country, West Yorkshire Metro seems to have used Covid as an excuse to stop providing timetables at bus stops. (One has to ask why? The notion that there is any risk for an individual swopping pieces of paper in a bus stop timetable frame is frankly bizarre.)

I am a keen user of technology and so not one who is averse to it being used for public transport information, but surely by definition a large proportion of people who look to the bus stop for their timetable details are by definition ones who do not use technology for that purpose, so why do local authorities and bus operators think that information online will address all needs?

Moreover, how is one meant to know when timetables have changed? We only found out this week that they had changed for the bus service near us when my wife commented that the service had appeared at different times on a couple of occasions and I looked it up. At the very least there used to be stickers on timetable frames warning of a change in times. What do local authorities and bus operators expect? For passengers to check online on each occasion before they travel in case times have changed?

To make matters worse, in West Yorkshire Metro's case, when I went to look the timetable up, I was met with the following message:
'Some timetables may not be up to date below, on bus stops or on station screens as well as journey planners due short notice of changes. Visit Service Updates for details.'

If they can't even be bothered to keep their online information up to date what hope is there?
 
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TheGrandWazoo

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Like many parts of the country, West Yorkshire Metro seems to have used Covid as an excuse to stop providing timetables at bus stops. (One has to ask why? The notion that there is any risk for an individual swopping pieces of paper in a bus stop timetable frame is frankly bizarre.)

I am a keen user of technology and so not one who is averse to it being used for public transport information, but surely by definition a large proportion of people who look to the bus stop for their timetable details are by definition ones who do not use technology for that purpose, so why do local authorities and bus operators think that information online will address all needs?

Moreover, how is one meant to know when timetables have changed? We only found out this week that they had changed for the bus service near us when my wife commented that the service had appeared at different times on a couple of occasions and I looked it up. At the very least there used to be stickers on timetable frames warning of a change in times. What do local authorities and bus operators expect? For passengers to check online on each occasion before they travel in case times have changed?

To make matters worse, in West Yorkshire Metro's case, when I went to look the timetable up, I was met with the following message:
'Some timetables may not be up to date below, on bus stops or on station screens as well as journey planners due short notice of changes. Visit Service Updates for details.'

If they can't even be bothered to keep their online information up to date what hope is there?
It isn't about the risks inherent in changing a piece of paper. It WAS about the ability to readily update information at a time when service timetables were changing almost week by week.

However, that was probably correct in March to July last year but much less so subsequently, even with lockdowns. On Saturday, I was impressed by how First South West, Devon CC and Stagecoach South West had been busy ensuring that timetable cases were updated. It's a pity that Metro have lost their way as you describe as they were always one of the better PTEs IMO
 

Andyh82

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Sorry but this is incorrect, Metro have started to reintroduce bus stop timetables. They aren’t everywhere yet as I imagine it’s quite a big undertaking, but I tend to see more with a timetable than with the generic Covid notice now.
 

TUC

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Sorry but this is incorrect, Metro have started to reintroduce bus stop timetables. They aren’t everywhere yet as I imagine it’s quite a big undertaking, but I tend to see more with a timetable than with the generic Covid notice now.
I see very few around Halifax. Besides, where does 'reintroduce' come in? Why even stop them in the first place?
 

Murray J

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On Saturday, I was impressed by how First South West, Devon CC and Stagecoach South West had been busy ensuring that timetable cases were updated.
Same here in Sussex with Metrobus. My road is served by only 1 route and their recent timetable changes only caused minor timing changes on that route, despite that they still changed it and I'm assuming they've done the same in most/all areas.
 

Dai Corner

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I understand the cost and difficulty in updating the paper timetables, especially when services are changing frequently, but what about electronic displays?

Newport City Council operate separate systems for each bus station which have been showing incorrect information for years. At least turn them off if they're not going to update them. The displays at stops just say 'refer to timetables' and the clock isn't even correct!

I have a background in IT and an interest in public transport operations and would do it for them as a service to the community if they'd let me.
 

duncanp

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Even worse than that, recent service changes in Birmingham have left a short section of road near me unserved, whereas previously there was one bus route going down that road.

The section of road contains a couple of bus stops, and yet there is nothing to indicate that the service has been withdrawn, so people could stand at the bus stop for a long time before they give up.

And the section of road where the now diverted bus route runs has not had its bus stops updated to indicate that the service now runs along this road, nor have any new timetables been posted.
 

Brooke

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Like many parts of the country, West Yorkshire Metro seems to have used Covid as an excuse to stop providing timetables at bus stops. (One has to ask why? The notion that there is any risk for an individual swopping pieces of paper in a bus stop timetable frame is frankly bizarre.)

I am a keen user of technology and so not one who is averse to it being used for public transport information, but surely by definition a large proportion of people who look to the bus stop for their timetable details are by definition ones who do not use technology for that purpose, so why do local authorities and bus operators think that information online will address all needs?

Moreover, how is one meant to know when timetables have changed? We only found out this week that they had changed for the bus service near us when my wife commented that the service had appeared at different times on a couple of occasions and I looked it up. At the very least there used to be stickers on timetable frames warning of a change in times. What do local authorities and bus operators expect? For passengers to check online on each occasion before they travel in case times have changed?

To make matters worse, in West Yorkshire Metro's case, when I went to look the timetable up, I was met with the following message:
'Some timetables may not be up to date below, on bus stops or on station screens as well as journey planners due short notice of changes. Visit Service Updates for details.'

If they can't even be bothered to keep their online information up to date what hope is there?
I popped up to Huddersfield to see a relative (in their 80s, no driving licence) the other day.

No smart phone, and she made the point that while she can plan her journey to somewhere (check on her home computer) it’s basically impossible to be spontaneous on the way back. Example: what if she goes for a stroll, ends up somewhere she doesn’t know the bus times from the top of her head?

What she does in reality: gets a lift with someone who has a car, gets a taxi, or simply walks all the way home. All of which represents revenue loss to the bus, and a significant loss to her independence and mobility.

Were she not adventurous and very fit, I guess she might not make the trip out at all, which must be the case for thousands of people.

Overall, I personally think it’s a pretty blatant example of age and disability discrimination, and think some consumer rights organisation should challenge it strongly (if they didn’t already).
 

Bletchleyite

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If she's tech savvy enough to use a home computer, why not buy her a basic smartphone? She can then use something simple like bustimes.org which is excellent.

There comes a point where it'll be cheaper to provide free smartphones and training to people than to do things the old way. Though I suppose printed timetable booklets would also work in this context.
 

Welshman

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Moreover, how is one meant to know when timetables have changed? We only found out this week that they had changed for the bus service near us when my wife commented that the service had appeared at different times on a couple of occasions and I looked it up. At the very least there used to be stickers on timetable frames warning of a change in times. What do local authorities and bus operators expect? For passengers to check online on each occasion before they travel in case times have changed?
Whilst I agree with everything you say about lack of information at bus-stops, the Metro website does give a list of dates when timetable changes can be expected.

 

CN04NRJ

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Lothian (and subsidiaries) suspended bus stop timetables from the first lockdown but they're reinstated effective from the 12th September across the network.
 

83G/84D

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My parents are both in the 80's and I can supply them with bus information as I have access to a computer and know where to find information should they require any. Thankfully both of the two main operators in Cornwall still produce timetable booklets / leaflets which is of great benefit to them and probably a lot of the "older" population of the county.
 

ALEMASTER

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SYPTE (Travel South Yorkshire) have generally continued to post timetable information (Departure list style) at bus stops throughout, however the contractor that cleans and maintains bus stops only does that at a certain frequency (every couple of months I think) and during the lockdowns etc the emergency timetables were changing more frequently than that so it wasn't always viable to have the latest information displayed - plus there was a requirement to display all the safety information.

Leaflets ended a few years ago due to the government austerity policy forcing significant spending cuts on public sector organisations such as SYPTE and there was a view that they'd rather make cuts to things like printed leaflets and travel shops (given most people use online sources now) rather than cut tendered bus services although eventually that was necessary too.
 

johncrossley

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My parents are both in the 80's and I can supply them with bus information as I have access to a computer and know where to find information should they require any. Thankfully both of the two main operators in Cornwall still produce timetable booklets / leaflets which is of great benefit to them and probably a lot of the "older" population of the county.

Do those timetables have an end date? If not, how are you supposed to know if the timetable is still valid without going online or making a phone call?
 

Andyh82

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I see very few around Halifax. Besides, where does 'reintroduce' come in? Why even stop them in the first place?
Because during Covid, and not just during the first lockdown, but until a few months ago, there was a situation where all the big operators were changing services either frequently or at short notice, and they were also changing at different times, so they couldn't keep up

The message about digital info maybe sometimes being wrong will be due to the short notice part, I'm not sure how long it takes from First announcing they are changing their 100 services across the county, to it feeding correctly into journey planners, online timetables and electronic screens, but I bet it isn't instant.
 

Dai Corner

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Because during Covid, and not just during the first lockdown, but until a few months ago, there was a situation where all the big operators were changing services either frequently or at short notice, and they were also changing at different times, so they couldn't keep up

The message about digital info maybe sometimes being wrong will be due to the short notice part, I'm not sure how long it takes from First announcing they are changing their 100 services across the county, to it feeding correctly into journey planners, online timetables and electronic screens, but I bet it isn't instant.
In England, BODS (Bus Open Data Service) means it could/should be published within 24 hours.
 

duncombec

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Do those timetables have an end date? If not, how are you supposed to know if the timetable is still valid without going online or making a phone call?
That's a bit of a red herring argument in the grand scheme of things:
- How do you know if it has become invalid if it is beyond the end date? The timetable for your service may still be accurate. There is apparently one operator in Sussex over-labelling the end date on their 2020 timetables because they are still valid...
- How do you know if your service is still valid purely because the end date hasn't been reached? National Bus Company-era sticky pages anyone? Let's not get into the amount of changes introduced in Hamburg and other large conurbations between timetable book issues, because there are 1001 other places to make that point...
- How do you know the timetable at the bus stop - which is what this thread is about, per the title - is accurate purely because it is in the bus stop panel (see many, many blogs by Roger French). Given you live in London, you would know how shockingly bad Transport for London can be on this point (see many blogs by Roger French).
- How do you know it is invalid just because it is old? I once had to stop someone throwing a bundle of perfectly valid leaflets away because they were "last year's", even though the service hadn't changed!
- In this era of being careful what we use, why would a company print lots of leaflets/booklets with an end date, only to then have to wastefully reprint them unchanged or over-label them because they hadn't made any changes?

Plus, where operators still print timetable leaflets, most of them are very good at making sure up to date ones are available. Whilst the irregular bus user may struggle to know if their 18 month old leaflet or bus stop panel is up to date, regular users are usually pretty good at spotting changes.


But to answer the Original Poster's point, as others have suggested, many councils/operators stopped because of frequency of changes and furloughing the relevant staff, or redeploying them to other duties (sorry, we can't drive the bus on the reduced service because the only available person is out changing timetable panels). In the hope that we are entering a period of relative calm now - has the period for super-short notice alterations at the Traffic Commissioners now been lifted? - operators and authorities seem to be returning slowly.
 

61653 HTAFC

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It's a pity that Metro have lost their way as you describe as they were always one of the better PTEs IMO
They were good in some ways, less so in others... like all similar organisations I suppose.

What annoys me more than timetables not being present, is timetables not being updated. Several bus stops along the Denby Darts route still have posters listing the 233, some still list the old 81/82... until fairly recently there were timetables at bus stops that referred to Yorkshire Traction!*

Better to have no timetable at all, than to have an outdated one.

*=amusingly, one of these was the stop right outside the bus depot at Waterloo, which is now Team Pennine but was previously Tiger and (long) before that, Yorkshire Traction themselves. Perhaps one of the old hands in there kept slipping the Metro guys a bit of cash to "preserve" it!
 

RT4038

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But to answer the Original Poster's point, as others have suggested, many councils/operators stopped because of frequency of changes and furloughing the relevant staff, or redeploying them to other duties (sorry, we can't drive the bus on the reduced service because the only available person is out changing timetable panels). In the hope that we are entering a period of relative calm now - has the period for super-short notice alterations at the Traffic Commissioners now been lifted? - operators and authorities seem to be returning slowly.
It was not only the frequency of changes but the sheer quantity (almost every route of every operator) being changed at once, and then multiple times thereafter, completely swamped the staff member in my county, and that of the local operators, both of whom are only just resourced for the 'normal' level of work. Couple that with the closure of office buildings making simple printing of the displays an issue. Electronic displays, from multiple suppliers, are still often hampered by legacy back office systems, requiring uploading and often manipulation of data to get them to work. Some smaller operators are unable to provide the information electronically at all, not necessarily having the expertise available. All of this requires more staff time, sometimes this is shared with the same staff member(s) doing the roadside displays.
 

TheGrandWazoo

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That's a bit of a red herring argument in the grand scheme of things:
- How do you know if it has become invalid if it is beyond the end date? The timetable for your service may still be accurate. There is apparently one operator in Sussex over-labelling the end date on their 2020 timetables because they are still valid...
- How do you know if your service is still valid purely because the end date hasn't been reached? National Bus Company-era sticky pages anyone? Let's not get into the amount of changes introduced in Hamburg and other large conurbations between timetable book issues, because there are 1001 other places to make that point...
- How do you know the timetable at the bus stop - which is what this thread is about, per the title - is accurate purely because it is in the bus stop panel (see many, many blogs by Roger French). Given you live in London, you would know how shockingly bad Transport for London can be on this point (see many blogs by Roger French).
- How do you know it is invalid just because it is old? I once had to stop someone throwing a bundle of perfectly valid leaflets away because they were "last year's", even though the service hadn't changed!
- In this era of being careful what we use, why would a company print lots of leaflets/booklets with an end date, only to then have to wastefully reprint them unchanged or over-label them because they hadn't made any changes?

Plus, where operators still print timetable leaflets, most of them are very good at making sure up to date ones are available. Whilst the irregular bus user may struggle to know if their 18 month old leaflet or bus stop panel is up to date, regular users are usually pretty good at spotting changes.


But to answer the Original Poster's point, as others have suggested, many councils/operators stopped because of frequency of changes and furloughing the relevant staff, or redeploying them to other duties (sorry, we can't drive the bus on the reduced service because the only available person is out changing timetable panels). In the hope that we are entering a period of relative calm now - has the period for super-short notice alterations at the Traffic Commissioners now been lifted? - operators and authorities seem to be returning slowly.
A lot to agree with on this post.

In some parts of the country, it's tough enough to get timetables provided let alone updated. Sometimes, that's operator related but often the council still retain primacy but have cut that activity during austerity. Just because it has an end date doesn't mean it's valid nor does the lack of such mean it's invalid. However, the issue in Covid times has been that there would be no way that an end date would be realistic and with times changing with some rapidity during the first lockdown especially, it was a major problem to keep things updated anyway.

I sometimes read the "Public Transport Experience" blog where the poster continually bemoans inaccurate information on websites and journey planners with the refrain "don't worry - it's all online" - well, that's not the point. The fact is that incorrect information is just that, however it is distributed and that includes bus stops, online or printed material. Just that if it's online, you should be able to sort it more cheaply and readily. As an aside, there's a bus stop in the next town (on a residential estate) that is still served but I reckon the timetable changed in c.2008
 

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- How do you know if it has become invalid if it is beyond the end date? The timetable for your service may still be accurate. There is apparently one operator in Sussex over-labelling the end date on their 2020 timetables because they are still valid...

If there is no end date you have no idea whether it is valid or invalid. So it is good practice to have an end date.

- How do you know if your service is still valid purely because the end date hasn't been reached? National Bus Company-era sticky pages anyone? Let's not get into the amount of changes introduced in Hamburg and other large conurbations between timetable book issues, because there are 1001 other places to make that point...

If there is an end date at least there is some reason to expect that the timetable is current. You would think it weird to have a train timetable that doesn't have an end date. Not a 100% guarantee of course but care should be taken to avoid changes mid timetable. Physical paper timetables were the only choice before the internet so we had to put a lot of trust in those but now it could be argued that producing a physical paper product causes more harm than good. Probably the best option is to have use online pdfs which look like a traditional timetable and they can even be made into a attractive multi-page document containing all services in an area. Although this doesn't stop someone saving it on their computer or printing it out, meaning the user could still be hanging onto out of date information, but it hopefully reduces that chance.

Obviously there is no excuse for incorrect information to be displayed at the bus stop, that goes without saying.
 

TheGrandWazoo

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If there is no end date you have no idea whether it is valid or invalid. So it is good practice to have an end date.



If there is an end date at least there is some reason to expect that the timetable is current. You would think it weird to have a train timetable that doesn't have an end date. Not a 100% guarantee of course but care should be taken to avoid changes mid timetable. Physical paper timetables were the only choice before the internet so we had to put a lot of trust in those but now it could be argued that producing a physical paper product causes more harm than good. Probably the best option is to have use online pdfs which look like a traditional timetable and they can even be made into a attractive multi-page document containing all services in an area. Although this doesn't stop someone saving it on their computer or printing it out, meaning the user could still be hanging onto out of date information, but it hopefully reduces that chance.

Obviously there is no excuse for incorrect information to be displayed at the bus stop, that goes without saying.
I'm not certain how that will help given the issue highlighted is that bus stop displays aren't being updated.

Even prior to Covid, you had enough examples where local authorities weren't updating them nor would they let operators touch them either (for fear of favour)
 

johncrossley

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I'm not certain how that will help given the issue highlighted is that bus stop displays aren't being updated.

Even prior to Covid, you had enough examples where local authorities weren't updating them nor would they let operators touch them either (for fear of favour)

I was replying to the post talking about using printed timetables in Cornwall so we went off topic a little. Obviously it is stupid if there is red tape stopping timetables being updated. I don't think anyone would disagree with that. Obviously the fragmentation of the bus industry outside London makes things more difficult than it needs to be. In places where you have a single operator or organisation being responsible for services as well as bus stops it is bound to be easier.
 

TUC

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Because during Covid, and not just during the first lockdown, but until a few months ago, there was a situation where all the big operators were changing services either frequently or at short notice, and they were also changing at different times, so they couldn't keep up

The message about digital info maybe sometimes being wrong will be due to the short notice part, I'm not sure how long it takes from First announcing they are changing their 100 services across the county, to it feeding correctly into journey planners, online timetables and electronic screens, but I bet it isn't instant.
There's no reason why such linkages shouldn't have long been capable of setting up, to enable instant updates. It's linkages of pretty straightforward data,
 
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duncombec

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It was not only the frequency of changes but the sheer quantity (almost every route of every operator) being changed at once, and then multiple times thereafter, completely swamped the staff member in my county, and that of the local operators, both of whom are only just resourced for the 'normal' level of work. Couple that with the closure of office buildings making simple printing of the displays an issue. Electronic displays, from multiple suppliers, are still often hampered by legacy back office systems, requiring uploading and often manipulation of data to get them to work. Some smaller operators are unable to provide the information electronically at all, not necessarily having the expertise available. All of this requires more staff time, sometimes this is shared with the same staff member(s) doing the roadside displays.
That's a very enlightening post as to the situation, which I'm sure is repeated in many places. Despite having been shuffled off to work from home myself, simple things like getting access to a printer - which I imagine is quite often specialised to produce bus stop displays - make the job a whole lot harder.

If there is no end date you have no idea whether it is valid or invalid. So it is good practice to have an end date.
It may be best practice, it may be preferential practice, but to avoid lots of circular arguments I think it best if we agree it is a matter of personal preference, and there may be times where it is, or isn't called for.

Even prior to Covid, you had enough examples where local authorities weren't updating them nor would they let operators touch them either (for fear of favour)
Indeed this is very much the case. I recall a similar discussion relating to Harrogate, where there was a debate about the colour of the timetable frames determining their owner and what could and could not be posted in them. Here, the local council has outsourced timetables to Arriva, who tell anyone who complains about them to contact the council...

I also note you mention the "Public Transport Experience" blog... in amongst his many complaints about online information, he has also repeatedly suggested he'd just get up a ladder and do it himself, despite many corrections that some councils would take a very dim view of such things.

Obviously the fragmentation of the bus industry outside London makes things more difficult than it needs to be. In places where you have a single operator or organisation being responsible for services as well as bus stops it is bound to be easier.
In some areas the councils are still responsible for displays, see above. Operators are not always to blame.

There's no reason why such linkages shouldn't have ling been capable of setting up, to enable instant updates. It's linkages of pretty straightforward data,
In many cases they can be, but some equipment predates the existing data formats. It also relies on the operators having the people to shuffle the data out there. If I had to work out whether it was Bustimes that had intentionally chopped off all the timetables in one direction for Saturdays or the operator having erroneously not included them in the Bus Open Data feed Bustimes used to generate their information, I know where I'd be looking first...

[Side question: I know there are few/no printed timetable booklets for railways at the moment, but have they updated the alphabetical "times from this station to the following destination" posters? That being the nearest equivalent the railway has to a "bus stop" and also dealing with frequent changes.]
 
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Being young I use technology as much as the next person of my age; however not having paper timetables is a pain in the backside. Sometimes when I'm out I just want to look at the timetable and see which routes stop there, where they go, how frequent they are and when the last one is. Going onto Google maps and finding the bus stop/ going onto wymetro website/ bustimes.org is just a faff, especially when it's raining or I'm in a rush.

The introduction of real time displays is good but only if you want to see the next handful of buses. Some of these real time displays (particularly the ones on the flag poles without shelters) are quite high up and difficult to read. I'm over 6ft, so I can't imagine what it's like for an shorter elderly (or not) person who may have bad eyesight
 

johncrossley

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[Side question: I know there are few/no printed timetable booklets for railways at the moment, but have they updated the alphabetical "times from this station to the following destination" posters? That being the nearest equivalent the railway has to a "bus stop" and also dealing with frequent changes.]

Do they still exist? Maybe I'm not looking carefully enough but I haven't seen one for years. I didn't think they were much use anyway. They only gave you times for a limited number of destinations.
 

Jordan Adam

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I was down in Dundee just over two weeks ago and all bus stop info has been removed there.

In Aberdeen the council are generally quite good at keeping the bus stop timetables up to date, however the route numbers on most of the flags haven't been properly updated since 2017/18.
 

dgl

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First down here in Wessex land seem to update the bus stop timetables as necessary plus all major stops have a real time display, though last Saturday the display and the timetable were at complete odds with one another (noting that some services were only showing the departure time and not the real time countdown).
 

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